Wigan news review of the year Part II
Welcome to the second half of wigantoday’s news review of the year.
It has proved to be a time of worry and hope, sadness and joy as this selection of items from July through to December shows:
The vaccination programme may have been well progressed by the second half of 2021 and the number of cases were being kept at bay, but Covid was never really out of the news. And in Wigan and Leigh town centres there was a special ceremony when the walks of fame gained particularly special new stars to sit alongside the celebrities and business magnates: ones in tribute to health and social care frontline workers who had toiled so bravely to protect us over the last year and a quarter.
Pubs and clubs were as full as they could be as Wigan football fans watch England play in its first major international final since 1966. Sadly, after a promising start, the Euros showdown at Wembley ended in a penalty shoot-out which saw Italy emerge triumphant and the Three Lions’ long wait go on. At least we beat Germany on the way though.
Staying on a footballing theme, Snow Graffiti artist Scott Wilcock created a mural of Marcus Rashford at Hindley J&I Primary. The Argyle Street school was planning to launch a community food donation point later in the year and marked it by commissioning the giant picture of the England striker, who as well as his exploits on the pitch is known for his campaigning work urging the authorities to tackle child hunger, racism and homelessness.
Dr Nayyar Naqvi, who founded Wigan’s cardiology service and dedicated 53 years to the NHS has announced his retirement. He described his career as a “marvellous journey” and had the title of emeritus consultant cardiologist bestowed on him to mark his many years of service to Wigan hospitals. Later in the year, Dr Naqvi was named as one of 50 “leading lights” in the Kindness and Leadership list 2021, which recognises “phenomenal leaders who are harnessing the power of kindness to make a significant impact and to effect positive change.”
This coming year Her Majesty The Queen celebrates 70 years on the throne, and Wiganers are being urged to organise and take part in major celebrations. Deputy Lieutenant of Greater Manchester Martin Ainscough issued a rallying call, saying he wants his home borough to roll back the clock to the heady days of 1977 when carnivals and street parties were held across the land to toast our monarch on reaching 25 years on the throne. An extended bank holiday, from Thursday to Sunday, June 2 to 5 will be the focal point of the landmark year.
Tributes were paid to the former Wigan Council leader and long-time Leigh councillor, Lord Peter Smith, who had died at the age of 78. A hugely influential figure in local and regional politics, he had chaired important Greater Manchester political organisations and overseen numerous major borough projects, not least the building of the DW Stadium and, the venue which will probably be his most famous legacy, Leigh Sports Village.
There was fabulous news as five-year-old Amarah-Rose Cocklin-Baynham was given the all-clear after a two-year battle against cancer. She was just three when her devastated parents were told that what is known as a Wilms tumour had been found. There then followed month after gruelling and painful month of operations, blood transfusions, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. But the Wigan Post was delighted to catch up with Amarah Rose on the first day of her new term at Sacred Heart RC Primary in Springfield.
Tensions were high after complaints were made by Standish residents about the alleged misbehaviour of certain asylum-seeker residents of the Britannia Hotel. One incident involved a girl being surrounded and photographed by a group of young men as she walked home. Wigan MP Lisa Nandy intervened, criticising the re-use of the hotel for such accommodation when it had been deemed wholly unsuitable several years earlier after similar trouble, and the far right Britain First party staged several demonstrations outside.
Harry Melling, the oldest surviving submariner from the Second World War, died at the age of 101. He had celebrated his last birthday at Alexandra Grange care home in Newtown in April, where more than 500 cards were sent to mark the milestone. His nephew Matthew said: “He was an amazing man, loved by everyone he met because of his character, integrity, honesty, ability to make people laugh with his outspoken sense of humour and because he defined the word gentleman.”
Wigan band The Lathums celebrated as their debut album reaching number one in the UK charts. How Beautiful Life Can Be has knocked Drake off top spot after fans rallied round to support the Wigan four-piece. The band came together in 2019, releasing their debut single the same year. Since then, they have constantly continued to grow, playing gigs up and down the country. The band said topping the charts was an achievement for the whole of Wigan and the entire community who had been behind them.
An Afghan evacuee told how he and his young family evaded Taliban marksmen and Isis suicide bombers to flee their strife-torn nation and find a new home in Wigan. Abdul Hamid Ghiasia said he had been overwhelmed by the kindness of locals and officials since he, his wife, young son and sister, were temporarily accommodated at a borough hotel with many other refugees. It took Abdul, who worked in the defence section at the British Embassy, three attempts to get through to Kabul airport in those terrifying final days before US and UK troops pulled out of Afghanistan at the end of August. On arrival in Britain he had taken up residence at a Wigan hotel awaiting resettlement.
Fears that Wigan pupils could in future be deprived of trips to the Lakes were quelled after the council secured the future of two outdoor education centres there. The local authority had launched a review into the services provided by Hinning House and Low Bank Ground earlier in the year, sparking concerns that the years-long tradition of borough youngsters heading up to Cumbria for al fresco schooling and adventures may end. But the town hall decided to take back control of the two sites from the trust which has run them for the last seven year, so ensuring the work and fun will continue.
D-Day came for the council’s decision on the future of Wigan’s Galleries shopping centre. For years the mall has been under-occupied and under-visited and a recession, the rise of the internet and a pandemic have all conspired to worsen its fortunes. After buying the centre back from its private owner, Wigan Council decided on a radical re-think for the town centre and its plans involved knocking down most of the red brick Galleries buildings, even thought they had been built little more than 30 years ago to allow the construction of new leisure, hospitality and accommodation structures. There was sizeable public opposition to the blueprint in some quarters but the planning committee pass the blueprint and demolition work could begin within weeks.
A shock report showed that undreds of vulnerable Wigan children are struggling with substance misuse. Authorities in the area have flagged more than 1,000 concerns about children abusing alcohol or drugs over the last four years, according to Department for Education data. Charity Barnardo’s said more should be done to tackle the “alarming” issue of drug and alcohol use among children referred to social care services across England. Figures showed in Wigan 362 concerns about child-related alcohol misuse and 782 cases relating to drug abuse.
Brave prison officer Jaxon Feeley gave an exclusive interview to the Wigan Post explaining how returning to work after a sex changer operation had saved his life. Having served in the military, Jaxon was known to everyone at Hindley Prison as Jess before transitioning. The 28-year-old admitted to a terror of coming back to the jail as a man which was worse than anything encountered while in Iraq, but he was very glad he did it and after coming out on a YouTube video as transgender he felt like a huge weight had been lifted from his mind.
A new rugby league exhibition in the Museum of Wigan Life has opened its doors to the public. The “Gerrumonside” experience provides a historical look-back at the sport, celebrating its past and present both within the borough and internationally. Visitors follow our local teams’ trophy-filled histories and learn how Wigan, Leigh and Tyldesley broke away from the Rugby Football Union in 1895 and formed the Northern Union. It covers the whole gamut of the code, including amateur, women’s and disabled manifestations of RL. The display has been given a glowing endorsement by visiting Wigan Warriors.
Former Great British Bake-off winner John Whaite was just pipped for the Strictly Come Dancing title after reaching the final with a string of acclaimed performances. But even though he missed out on the title he will forever be remembered as the first male contestant in show’s history to have a same sex partner (Johannes Radebe). His bravery, as well as his skills on the dance floor won him wide acclaim.
Brave Aspull six-year-old Charlie Williams was back on his feet in time for Christmas after undergoing a punishing series of operations. He had belatedly been diagnosed with Perthes disease, which cuts off blood supply to the femur and causes it to disintegrate very painfully. His mum Emma was very angry that the local GP failed to recognise the condition and so the youngster endured many agonising months without the proper treatment and support before hospital doctors identified the problem and he went under the knife. Mrs Williams has nothing but praise for the Alder Hey staff who have given Charlie a new lease of life.
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